By Timothy Gardner and Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON Jan 30 As Arctic ice melts away,
opening the way for greater oil development and mining, the
White House outlined a plan on Thursday to promote safety and
security in the region by building ports, improving forecasts of
sea ice, and developing shipping rules.
With warmer temperatures leaving Arctic sea passages open
for longer periods of the year, billions of barrels of oil could
be tapped beyond what is already being produced in the region. A
loss of seasonal ice could also allow greater exploitation of
precious minerals considered abundant in the Arctic.
Extreme weather conditions, however, make the region a
challenge to navigate and develop.
The White House plan was released on the same day that Royal
Dutch Shell canceled drilling this year off Alaska,
after a series of costly mishaps in the harsh conditions, as
part of efforts to cut spending.
The U.S. Defense Department will lead an interagency effort
to forecast icy conditions by launching a satellite and
improving analytic methods to forecast icy conditions.
The Department of Commerce, meanwhile, will lead
coordination on surveying and charting of U.S. Arctic waters to
ease shipping and improve adaptation to climate change in
"Our highest priority is to protect the American people, our
sovereign territory and rights and the natural resources and
other interests of the United States," said the plan, which is
part of President Barack Obama's National Strategy for the
Arctic Region he announced last May. The plan can be seen at:
In addition, the State Department will attempt to reach an
agreement with Canada on the Beaufort Sea maritime boundary, and
the Department of Homeland Security will lead work on developing
an international code for ships operating in polar waters.
Norwegian Ambassador Kare Aas welcomed the U.S. plan and
said it would help Norway and the United States identify new
areas for collaboration as both countries addressed the
challenges and opportunities emerging in the Arctic region.
"We will continue to work with our American friends to
ensure that the Arctic remains a peaceful region of cooperation
and sustainable development," Aas said in a statement.
The U.S. military had been working on strategy in the Arctic
before the plan was announced on Thursday.
The U.S. Navy is nearing completion of a new Arctic "road
map" that lays out its approach to future engagements in the
region, given increasingly open waterways. The updated document
is based on the Navy's first comprehensive assessment of the
near-term, mid-term and long-term availability of sea passages,
due to the loss of seasonal ice.
In a recent blog written for the Navy's website, Navy
Oceanographer Rear Admiral Jon White said an inter-agency team
made the assessment after a comprehensive review of current
Arctic sea-ice projections.
He said current trends were expected to continue in the
near-term, with the Bering Strait expected to see open
conditions about 160 days a year by 2020. The mid-term period
would see increasing levels of ice melt, White said.
In the long-term, beyond 2030, environmental conditions are
expected to leave waterways open for longer periods, driving a
significant increase in traffic in the summer months.
Earlier this month, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral
Jonathan Greenert told a conference that Arctic ice was melting
faster than predicted four years ago when the Navy published its
first road map.
"We need to understand, we need to take a look at it and
decide what does it mean to us for security, maritime security,
freedom of navigation, and global force management," Greenert
told a conference hosted by the Surface Navy Association.